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Support Taiwan’s inclusion in the post-COVID-19 global public health network

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Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, there have more than 40 million cases and more than one million deaths around the world. The virus has had an enormous impact on global politics, employment, economics, trade and financial systems, and significantly impacted the global efforts to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs), writes Republic of China (Taiwan) Health and Welfare Minister Dr. Chen Shih-chung (pictured, above left).

Thanks to the united efforts of its entire people, Taiwan has responded to the threats posed by this pandemic through four principles: prudent action, rapid response, advance deployment, and openness and transparency.

Adopting such strategies as the operation of specialized command systems, the implementation of meticulous border control measures, the production and distribution of adequate supplies of medical resources, the employment of home quarantine and isolation measures and related care services, the application of IT systems, the publishing of transparent and open information, and the execution of precise screening and testing, we have been fortunate enough to contain the virus.

As of 7 October, Taiwan had had just 523 confirmed cases and seven deaths; meanwhile, life and work have continued much as normal for the majority of people.

The global outbreak of COVID-19 has reminded the world that infectious diseases know no borders and do not discriminate along political, ethnic, religious, or cultural lines. Nations should work together to address the threat of emerging diseases.

For this reason, once Taiwan had stabilized its containment of the virus and ensured that people had sufficient access to medical resources, we began to share our experience and exchange information on containing COVID-19 with global public health professionals and scholars through COVID-19-related forums, APEC’s High-Level Meeting on Health and the Economy, the Global Cooperation Training Framework, and other virtual bilateral meetings.

As of June 2020, Taiwan had held nearly 80 online conferences, sharing the Taiwan Model with experts from governments, hospitals, universities, and think tanks in 32 countries.

Taiwan’s donations of medical equipment and antipandemic supplies to countries in need also continue. By June, we had donated 51 million surgical masks, 1.16 million N95 masks, 600,000 isolation gowns, and 35,000 forehead thermometers to more than 80 countries.

To ensure access to vaccines, Taiwan has joined the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access Facility (COVAX) co-led by GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance; the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations; and the World Health Organization. And our government is actively assisting domestic manufacturers in hopes of accelerating the development and production of successful vaccines, bringing them to market as quickly as possible and putting an end to this pandemic.

To prepare for a possible next wave of the pandemic as well as the approaching flu season, Taiwan is maintaining its strategies of encouraging citizens to wear face masks and maintain social distancing, and strengthening border quarantine measures, community-based prevention, and medical preparedness. Furthermore, we are actively collaborating with domestic and international partners to obtain vaccines and develop optimal treatments and accurate diagnostic tools, jointly safeguarding global public health security.

The COVID-19 pandemic has proven that Taiwan is an integral part of the global public health network and that Taiwan Model can help other countries combat the pandemic. To recover better, WHO needs Taiwan.

We urge WHO and related parties to acknowledge Taiwan’s longstanding contributions to global public health, disease prevention, and the human right to health, and to firmly support Taiwan’s inclusion in WHO. Taiwan’s comprehensive participation in WHO meetings, mechanisms, and activities would allow us to work with the rest of the world in realizing the fundamental human right to health as stipulated in the WHO Constitution and the vision of leaving no one behind enshrined in the UN SDGs.

The opinions expressed in the above article are those of the author alone, and do not reflect any opinions on the part of EU Reporter.

COVID-19

EU Digital COVID Certificate - ‘A big step towards a safe recovery’

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Today (14 June), the Presidents of the European Parliament, the Council of the EU and the European Commission attended the official signing ceremony for the Regulation on the EU Digital COVID Certificate, marking the end of the legislative process.

Prime Minister of Portugal Antonio Costa said: “Today, we are making a big step towards a safe recovery, to recover our freedom of movement and to boost economic recovery. The digital certificate is an inclusive tool. It includes people who have recovered from COVID, people with negative tests and vaccinated people. Today we are sending a renewed sense of confidence to our citizens that together we will overcome this pandemic and to enjoy travel again, safely and freely across the European Union.”

Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen said: “On this day 36 years ago, the Schengen Agreement was signed, five member states at that time decided to open their borders to one another and this was the beginning of what today is for many, many citizens, one of the biggest achievements of Europe, the possibility to travel freely within our union. The European digital COVID certificate reassures us of this spirit of an open Europe, a Europe without barriers, but also a Europe that is slowly but surely opening up after most difficult time, the certificate is a symbol of an open and digital Europe.”

Thirteen member states have already started to issue EU Digital COVID Certificates, by 1 July the new rules will be applicable in all EU states. The Commission has set up a gateway that will allow member states to verify that the certificates are authentic. Von der Leyen also said that the certificate was also attributable to the success of the European vaccination strategy. 

EU countries will still be able to impose restrictions if they are necessary and proportionate to safeguard public health, but all states are asked to refrain from imposing additional travel restrictions on the holders of the EU Digital COVID Certificate

EU Digital COVID Certificate

The aim of the EU Digital COVID Certificate is to facilitate safe and free movement inside the EU during the COVID-19 pandemic. All Europeans have the right to free movement, also without the certificate, but the certificate will facilitate travel, exempting holders from restrictions like quarantine.

The EU Digital COVID Certificate will be accessible for everyone and it will:

  • cover COVID-19 vaccination, test and recovery
  • be free of charge and available in all EU languages
  • be available in a digital and paper-based format
  • be secure and include a digitally signed QR code

In addition, the Commission committed to mobilising €100 million under the Emergency Support Instrument to support Member States in providing affordable tests.

The Regulation will apply for 12 months as of 1 July 2021.

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Parliament president calls for a European Search and Rescue Mission

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European Parliament President David Sassoli (pictured) has opened a high-level interparliamentary conference on managing migration and asylum in Europe. The conference focused particularly on the external aspects of migration. The president said: “We have chosen to discuss today the external dimension of migration and asylum policies because we know that only by tackling the instability, crises, poverty, human rights violations that occur beyond our borders, will we be able to address the root causes that push millions of people to leave. We need to manage this global phenomenon in a human way, to welcome the people that knock on our doors every day with dignity and respect.
 
“The COVID-19 pandemic is having a profound impact on migration patterns locally and worldwide and has had a multiplier effect on the forced movement of people around the world, especially where access to treatment and healthcare is not guaranteed. The pandemic has disrupted migration pathways, blocked immigration, destroyed jobs and income, reduced remittances, and pushed millions of migrants and vulnerable populations into poverty.
 
“Migration and asylum are already an integral part of the external action of the European Union. But they must become part of a stronger and more cohesive foreign policy  in the future.
 
“I believe it is our duty first of all to save lives. It is no longer acceptable to leave this responsibility only to NGOs, which perform a substitute function in the Mediterranean. We must go back to thinking about joint action by the European Union in the Mediterranean that saves lives and tackles traffickers. We need a European search and rescue mechanism at sea, which uses the expertise of all actors involved, from Member States to civil society to European agencies.
 
“Second, we must ensure that people in need of protection can arrive in the European Union safely and without risking their lives. We need humanitarian channels to be defined together with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. We must work together on a European resettlement system based on common responsibility. We are talking about people who can also make an important contribution to the recovery of our societies affected by the pandemic and demographic decline, thanks to their work and their skills.
 
“We also need to put in place a European migration reception policy. Together we shoulddefine the criteria for a single entry and residence permit, assessing the needs of our labor markets at a national level. During the pandemic, entire economic sectors came to a halt due to the absence of immigrant workers. We need regulated immigration for the recovery of our societies and for the maintenance of our social protection systems.”

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Mainstream media risks becoming a threat to public health

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In recent weeks the controversial claim that the pandemic might have leaked from a Chinese laboratory - once dismissed by many as a fringe conspiracy theory - has been gaining traction. Now, US President Joe Biden has announced an urgent investigation that will look into the theory as a possible origin of the disease, writes Henry St.George.

Suspicion first arose in early 2020 for obvious reasons, the virus having emerged in the same Chinese city as the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), which has been studying coronaviruses in bats for over a decade. The laboratory is located just a few kilometres from the Huanan wet market where the first cluster of infections emerged in Wuhan.

Despite the glaring coincidence, many in the media and politics dismissed the idea outright as a conspiracy theory and refused to consider it seriously throughout the past year. But this week it has emerged that a report prepared in May 2020 by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California had concluded that the hypothesis claiming the virus leaked from a Chinese lab in Wuhan was plausible and deserved further investigation.

So why was the Lab Leak Theory overwhelmingly dismissed from the get go? There is no question that from the mainstream media’s perspective the idea was tarnished by association with President Donald Trump. Granted, skepticism of the President’s claims surrounding any given aspect of the pandemic would have been warranted at almost any stage. To put it euphemistically, Trump had shown himself to be something of an unreliable narrator.

During the course of the pandemic Trump dismissed the seriousness of COVID-19 repeatedly, pushed unproven, potentially dangerous remedies like hydroxychloroquine, and even suggested at one memorable press briefing that injecting bleach might help.

Journalists also reasonably feared similarities with the narrative of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, whereby vast threats were cited and assumptions granted to an antagonistic theory with too little evidence to back it up.

However, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that a general animus felt towards Trump by large swathes of the media brought about a large-scale dereliction of duty and failure to uphold objective standards of journalism as well as science. In reality the Lab Leak was never a conspiracy theory but a valid hypothesis all along.

Suggestions to the contrary by anti-establishment figures in China were also summarily quashed. As early as September 2020, the ‘Rule of Law Foundation’, connected with prominent Chinese dissident Miles Kwok, appeared on the title page a study that alleged the coronavirus was an artificial pathogen. Mr. Kwok’s long-standing opposition to the CCP was sufficient to ensure the idea was not taken seriously.

Under the pretense that they were combatting misinformation, the social media monopolies even censored posts about the lab-leak hypothesis. Only now – after almost every major media outlet as well as the British and American security services have confirmed that it is a feasible possibility – have they been forced to backtrack.

“In light of ongoing investigations into the origin of COVID-19 and in consultation with public health experts,” a Facebook spokesman said, “we will no longer remove the claim that COVID-19 is man-made or manufactured from our apps.” In other words, Facebook now believes that its censorship of millions of posts in the preceding months had been in error.

The consequences of the idea not having been taken seriously are profound. There is evidence that the lab in question may have been conducting what is called “gain of function” research, a dangerous innovation in which diseases are deliberately made more virulent as part of scientific research.

As such, if the lab theory is in fact true, the world has been deliberately kept in the dark about the genetic origins of a virus that has killed over 3.7m people to date. Hundreds of thousands of lives could have been saved if the key properties of the virus and its propensity to mutate had been understood sooner and better.

The cultural ramifications of such a discovery cannot be overstated. If the hypothesis is true - the realization will soon set in that the world’s fundamental mistake was not insufficient reverence for scientists, or inadequate respect for expertise, but not enough scrutiny of mainstream media and too much censorship on Facebook. Our main failure will have been the inability to think critically and acknowledge that there is no such thing as absolute expertise.

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